#17 Marketing's Role in Construction
Written by Megan Hamilton
July 15, 2022
As you watch our BuildWitt Leaders courses, you may have some questions about how marketing works in your industry.
So, marketing pro Marcus Sheridan sat down with a couple of folks who work in and around the Dirt World—Randy Blount and Dan Briscoe.
Together, they’ll answer your questions about marketing, recruiting, and how to apply these concepts to your business. Let’s dive in.
Why does marketing in construction matter?
According to Dan, most businesses in the Dirt World don’t have marketing departments. It’s hard to add a videographer or content marketer to your team when you don’t have a department for them.
However, it’s easier to see why you need those things when you understand how much marketing impacts sales. These days, marketing has more influence on sales than the actual sales team. So if you want to grow your business, you need to market it.
What can marketing do for my company?
As we mentioned in the last question, marketing helps you get more business. It also improves customer service.
For example, when people buy a swimming pool, they have to learn about maintaining their equipment. (Sounds familiar, right?) In the past, Marcus’ team at River Pools and Spas taught people that stuff face-to-face. But homeowners forgot the training.
So the marketing department created videos showing people how to care for their pools. Now, customer service gets fewer calls. And when they do, they can send the customer the video that solves their problem.
You can create marketing videos, articles, ebooks, or other content to help your customers. You’ll build a reputation for being good to work with, and you’ll get more business because people will trust you to take care of them.
Most companies in my industry don’t have marketing departments. Why should I?
Just because most businesses in blue-collar industries don’t have marketing departments doesn’t mean it should be that way.
When you realize how important marketing is, it’s tempting to try to do it yourself. However, as a business owner, you don’t have time to handle the marketing and still run the company. You need marketers to help you by doing what they’re trained to do.
That can mean you need to outsource some of your marketing work to writers, designers, or videographers outside your company. But that’s a temporary solution. You will need to hire people to be part of your own marketing team. Marcus’ rule of thumb is that you should be able to produce at least 80% of your content on your own.
When should I start marketing?
You should start marketing today, and keep marketing for as long as you run your business. Here’s why.
In 2007, people were buying swimming pools like crazy. Pool vendors were taking everybody on cruises to celebrate. Marcus asked a vendor, “Instead of a cruise, why don’t we get together for an educational experience to improve our businesses?” The guy laughed at him.
However, the guy wasn’t laughing in 2008. The economy crashed, and pool companies had to work harder to attract customers. They turned to digital marketing, which did help—but their businesses struggled while they tried to get their marketing off the ground.
The Dirt World has boom-bust cycles, too. Consistent marketing helps you create a bigger customer base and more stability in the tough times.
I barely make any money. How can I afford to do this?
Thinking about expanding your team when you barely make ends meet can make you want to throw up. But you can’t afford not to market your business. Marketing is how you grow your business in the digital age, so you have to figure out how to make it happen.
Ask yourself honestly why you’re not making money. Are you lacking sales? Are your margins too low? Is there waste in the field? Now’s the time to find and fix those problems.
Besides, you don’t have to start huge. You just have to start. Your marketing “department” might be one or two people at first, and that’s okay. They’ll earn their keep.
How do I even start?
Marketing is simple. All you have to do is honestly answer customers' biggest questions and publish that content online. That’s how you become a trusted voice in your space and stand out from the competition.
You can also take marketing into the physical world. Randy painted his machines at Blount Contracting gray, so they looked different when they rolled up on the jobsite. That was a costly marketing move, but it came with incredible results (more on that later).
Won’t telling customers the truth about the industry make my vendors and competitors mad?
You got into the business because you like to control your future. Don’t let a vendor, competitor, or anyone else decide how you grow your company.
When you start creating effective content, you’ll get so much business that smart vendors will want to keep you around. As for your competitors, you don’t have to answer them. You care about your customers, so do what’s right for them.
My business is bid-based. Does marketing even matter for me?
Dan works at BuildWitt, helping companies in the Dirt World with their marketing. Every week, he talks to contractors who say, “We have a hard bid-based business. I’m not sure marketing matters.”
But let’s ask a different question: Do you want more opportunities to bid on jobs?
Most people would say, “Heck yeah, I want to bid more!” Marketing is a proactive way to ensure you’re on the list when an opportunity arises. So if you want more negotiated work and higher margins, you need to do this stuff.
But won’t customers just go with the lowest bid?
Let’s be crystal clear: Contracting isn’t about the lowest bid. To show you why, the guys ask another question: Do you want to be the first contractor that customers contact to bid on a job or the last?
You want to be first. That way, you get more time to understand the project, which gives you an edge over the competition. You don’t want to be last because sometimes the customer makes a quick decision and never calls you.
See? It’s not about the lowest bid. If it were, the customer would call everybody, and you wouldn’t care where you were on the list. However, bidding on a job first matters. People put you first on their list when you use marketing to become a leader in your industry.
Why would a customer pick me if I’m not the lowest bid?
Customers aren’t looking for the lowest bid. They’re looking for someone they can trust.
Imagine you bid on a job, and the person reading your proposal tells their team, “These are good contractors. I’ve seen their videos online, and they know what they’re doing. That’s different than if they say, “These guys are the lowball. They’re just trying to make a buck.”
Customers who see you as trustworthy will pick you, even if you’re the high bid.
Can marketing help me with recruiting?
Many business owners in the Dirt World want to do more work, but they can’t find the people to do it. Marketing solves that problem. It spreads awareness about the industry and its jobs, and how you attract recruits.
You market to recruits just like customers—by answering their questions and earning their trust. When recruits see you as an industry thought leader, they flock to you.
How can I use marketing when I bid on jobs?
If you want to win more bids, your proposal can’t just be a piece of paper with a dollar amount. It has to set you apart from the competitors.
Show what you plan to do, plus when and how you plan to do it. Openly say, “We may cost $20,000 more, but here’s the long-term impact. Here’s why we suggest you do it this way.” Then customers can physically see why working with you makes sense. You’ll get a callback, even if you’re the high bid.
You can add digital marketing to your proposal, too. Randy’s company uses an earth retention system called shoring. Few people understand shoring, so their sales team constantly has to call potential customers and send them sketches to explain it. Randy wants to send videos about his shoring systems with every proposal so customers can understand.
I'm losing bids to contractors who are cutting corners. Can marketing help me?
Most customers want things done right, but they need someone to teach them what’s right in your industry.
For example, fiberglass pools used to be built on sand, which is unstable. River Pools and Spas started teaching the importance of building pools on gravel, and customers began demanding pools built on gravel even though they cost more. Today, 90% of fiberglass pools are built on gravel because Marcus’ company educated their customers.
The Dirt World still needs to improve some things, too. But most customers think It’s just moving dirt. They don’t realize there’s a right and wrong way to do it, because they’re not experts like you. If they knew the truth, they’d bust the bad contractor’s chops for over-excavating the pad or using 2,500 PSI concrete instead of 4,000 PSI. The industry would look totally different.
If you’re tired of bidding against crappy contractors, do something about it. Start teaching customers what’s happening in the industry. Tell them what’s possible, and show them what options they have. In other words, start marketing. (Or if you won’t do that, stop complaining.)
Why can’t I get good leads with my online marketing?
Some companies think their internet leads suck, but the problem may actually be their own website and messaging.
Your leads are only as good as the communication that brought them to you. So don’t just slap a slogan on your website that says, “We do quality work” or “We save you money.”
Instead, create an article or a video that teaches the customer how you do those things. Show them your work. Show them results and testimonials from past clients—don’t just tell them.
When you take the time to educate your online leads, you win their trust. And trust is what makes people want to work with you.
Should I talk about cost in my marketing?
Cost is one of the biggest questions customers have. So yes, you have to talk about cost.
Many construction companies don’t even know their operating costs. They’ll do work for less than cost and go out of business. That’s a huge problem. Customers don’t know that, though. They just look at your bid and think you’re expensive.
However, you can teach customers how you determine your costs, how much you have to charge to sustain your business, and why that’s better for them. Then, when they get a low bid, they won’t even work with that company because they’ll know something’s wrong with it.
What is storytelling in marketing?
People remember more when they hear a story. When you tell stories in marketing, it makes them more likely to remember you. When people remember (and trust) you, they’re more likely to work with you.
For example, Randy’s team repaired a school parking lot at-cost to help the school out. That’s a powerful story. When you have a story like that, you need a marketing department to shoot a video of the customer’s perspective. Then, everyone can see the customer’s journey from having a problem to working with you, to seeing happy kids walk across the new parking lot.
We bet you’ve got a few stories you could tell. So tell them! Start writing that story down and figuring out how you can share it. The trick is to ensure your company isn't the story's hero. You should have two heroes: customers and team members.
Won’t my competitors use my employees’ stories against me?
Business leaders often don’t want to tell their team members’ stories because they fear competitors will steal them. That could happen, but it could also happen if you don’t tell the story. Your employees can leave whenever they want. They’re not robots.
By not telling your team members’ stories, you’re hurting recruitment and retention. If you show off your team and say, “They love us, and we love them,” suddenly everybody wants to work for you. Plus, your current team members are more likely to stay because they’re proud to work for a company that appreciates them.
If you create the right culture, you can be pretty confident that somebody who leaves probably would have gone anyway.
What if my competitors start stealing my ideas?
There are no secrets in the Dirt World. Every company in your space uses the same methods as you, and very few things have a patent. People will always find out what you’re up to. And that’s fine. You don’t have to do your work differently than anybody else. You just have to show people how you do it.
Marcus and his team created an 80-minute video series showing how their company makes fiberglass pools. Now, people all over the country want to buy from River Pools because that’s the only company that offers how they build their pools. Plus, more pool dealers carry Marcus’ pools to satisfy customers who ask for that brand.
Think about how that could look in the Dirt World. How many project engineers and superintendents know how to set a catch basin or check a grade? But if you post a video or an article online teaching them how it’s done, they’ll trust you to do it for them. It’s that simple.
Why is recruiting so hard?
Most people don’t know they want to be an operator or a pipefitter unless they grew up in the Dirt World. You have to show them that’s an option. Yet most companies show no stories about people in the industry because they’re too afraid of losing their team.
But you can’t attract the best people with fear. You attract the best people with love. As a contractor, you probably don’t hear many people talk about that, but it’s true. Even the toughest people run on emotions. You have to show them a high level of caring (love) and a low level of fear.
Fear doesn’t motivate people to work for you. What motivates people to work for you is that you love your team and want the best for them. That means you have to create a strong culture and show people with great videos and content why working for you is a good move for them.
Do that, and we bet you’ll discover that recruits aren’t as scarce as you think.
What if I start marketing, and then it goes obsolete?
Some people would love it if we still sold and bought things the same way we did 50 years ago, but our society isn’t returning to the stone age. The internet is here to stay, and people will keep researching stuff on their phones before buying it. Now, the technology they use to do that will evolve, but the point still stands.
Digital marketing is never going away. Period.
What if my customers or team want to do stuff I don’t like?
You signed up to listen to the marketplace when you became a business leader. You signed up to do right for your team and customers. You can’t let personal opinions overrule clear trends in the world.
It doesn’t matter if you like to video or are good on camera. What matters is that you give the marketplace what it wants. And if your audience has been clear that it wants to see videos of what you do. Show the videos, and trust that the right customers will move forward with you.
How do I know what kind of marketing to do?
For starters, you’re probably already aware of the trends in your space.
Maybe you see young people get construction degrees but don’t understand the work. So make marketing videos that show them how to do the work they didn’t learn in school. Or maybe there aren’t enough experienced operators. Tell recruits, “We’ll train you how to run this dozer” or “We’ll teach you how to lay pipe.”
Pay attention to the questions customers and recruits ask, because that’s how they tell you what they want. Then, answer those questions.
It’s also important to build a strong brand; you can only win recruits and customers if people know who you are.
And remember, it’s smart to ask for a helping hand with your marketing if you don’t yet have the experience or the manpower to do it yourself. That’s why BuildWitt exists: we help people in the Dirt World build up their brand and share it so they can attract good leads and good recruits. Check out our services to see what we can do for you.
Why don’t people want to work in the Dirt World?
The Dirt World is losing its workforce because other industries are telling their stories in cool ways, and the Dirt World isn’t. And that’s a shame.
The Dirt World has tons of amazing stories. Blue-collar workers are heroes. Every day, they build what our society needs to live. That’s an incredible mission, and people want to be part of something incredible. They just don’t know they want to work in the Dirt World because they never see any stories about people having fun and feeling fulfilled doing this stuff.
When we say, “Don’t record this pipeline going in” or “You can’t take pictures at this coal mine,” that disconnects people from the Dirt World. People hate mining because they don’t know that’s why they can turn on the lights or use a smartphone. They don’t think about becoming an operator, because they don’t hear from an operator proud of building a road or supplying a city with clean water.
We must help people realize their daily lives depend on the Dirt World and that working in this industry is cool. And that will only happen when we show them the real story.
Young people don’t want to work in the Dirt World. How am I supposed to build a workforce?
Every generation complains about the upcoming generation. However, you don’t gain anything by complaining about people. And it’s crazy to blame young people for not wanting to enter the Dirt World.
Do you know who you can blame? Yourself. Business leaders need to take extreme ownership and start putting in the marketing effort to attract the younger generation to the industry.
How can I attract the next generation of workers?
Younger generations want to see themselves in people who already work in the industry. That’s how the Dirt World makes sense to them, so we must tell those stories. We also have to make it normal for people to say, “College isn’t my thing. I want to be a heavy equipment operator.”
To do that, you make a video of an operator saying how she got into construction, why she loves putting the hard hat on, and what she loves about running heavy equipment. Now, younger women can say they want to work in the Dirt World because they’ve seen her do it first.
We chose this example because if you want to recruit more women into a male-dominated industry, you have to celebrate the women who are already there. But the same concept works for recruiting men. You have to show people what’s possible. You do that by hiring a marketing department to tell these stories.
Can I use marketing to help my company’s internal culture?
Marketing can absolutely help with company culture, employee engagement, retention, onboarding, and training.
Right now, Blount is telling the stories of everyone who’s been on the team for over three years. They’re even putting their team members’ pictures on the website. Blue-collar workers proudly tell their kids, “Look, here I am on the website. My company values me enough to have me there.”
Telling the stories also shows people that your company has something culturally different. Plus, recruits can relate to why people at Blount love the Dirt World—from “I like playing in the dirt with big machines” to “I love building the future.”
Will marketing work right away?
Sometimes, marketing works immediately.
For example, Blount buys each team member a pair of boots every year. Suppose the marketing department announces that fact during onboarding. Now, new team members have something to look forward to. That’s an instant morale boost.
A marketer could even video somebody talking about how much they love to get their new boots and post it on Instagram. Right away, potential recruits could watch that and think, Wow! I’ve never worked at a company that would buy boots for me. These guys care about me.
Other times, marketing takes time. Blount painted their equipment gray years ago. Today, Blount doesn’t have to pay a recruiter because people see the gray equipment and show up.
What do customers and recruits want?
Ultimately, everybody wants to be part of something bigger than themselves. Marketing makes that a reality. You and your team feel proud when you say, “I’m part of this. Here’s a video of what I do.”
It’s like how people become obsessed and only buy Apple products. They feel involved in something bigger when they buy Apple. Do the folks in your company feel like they’re part of something bigger, and can the public see that?
What if my team doesn’t want me to share their stories?
For the most part, even shy people want their story told. They want to say, “I’m part of this thing that's bigger than me. Here’s why I go to work.”
Your team—engineers, people in the field, sales reps—will feel more ownership of the brand when you get them on camera to tell their story. It’s fulfilling to say, “I helped build that school” or “I helped build that road.” People love to be part of that, especially since they can see and touch it. That sense of pride draws customers and recruits to you.
The great thing about the Dirt World story is that it’s so easy to tell what you do. You’re doing huge things, moving tons of dirt, making sure people can turn their water on. This industry is amazing. And that’s worth sharing.
How do I make the whole team part of the marketing department?
Making the whole team part of the marketing department is one of the five steps to great marketing. But you can’t have a heavy equipment operator taking videos on their phone. You need them focused on the job. Plus, all it takes is one person to say the wrong thing and lose a customer.
Rather than ask your entire team to record videos and post on social media, let the people in the field do their jobs. Send a videographer and a content manager to the jobsite to learn about it. Then, the marketers can tell the story online in a way that makes sense.
That’s how you involve the whole team in marketing safely and at scale.
What if bad content gets out there?
One time, one of Randy’s operators drove a skid steer forward quickly and then went backward, so the back end was off the ground. That didn't look good on the social media live feed, but it happens.
Everybody has a camera in their pocket, so eventually, somebody will take a video you don’t want them to. In any industry, you’ll have critics. So have enough good content to outweigh the bad. Create guidelines and communicate them. Help people understand why things happen the way they do in your industry.
I’m still on the fence about starting a marketing department. What other advice do you have?
Saying “I can’t” is easy. However, you don’t do amazing things or change the industry by sitting there like a bump on a log. Never celebrate that kind of lazy, fearful behavior. Marketing takes effort, but you can always address customers’ and recruits’ questions, earn their trust, and grow your business.
By the way, if you’re not willing to market your business, you don’t get to complain when it doesn’t grow. Young people and low-bid companies aren’t the problem in that situation—you are. But you don't have to be. You can start marketing today and become part of the solution instead.
Final thoughts from Marcus, Randy, and Dan
Marketing opens a big, blue ocean of opportunity for you to grow your business. If you do this right, you’ll have more customers and recruits than you know what to do with.
We hope we’ve answered at least some of your questions, and we hope you take these ideas and run with them. Good luck!
Written by Megan Hamilton
July 15, 2022